Personal Stories: Mother's Story
A Mother’s Story
I am here to tell you that it is OK to talk about mental illness.
I am the parent of a child who battles mental illness. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness it is not easy to say this. I have been advocating for my son for seven years. I tell people it is ok to talk about mental illness.
In the summer between Junior and senior high school we moved. Everything about this school was different. He needed to find friends, learn to move about a large school and cope with more homework. For the longest time, I thought his anxiety was just teen apprehension and new school/routine.
One day my son told me how he had no energy, he wasn’t happy and couldn’t pretend to be happy anymore. It just took too much energy. He told me he had been cutting and it was NOT cutting classes. Then he showed me his arms I had to really work so I wouldn’t just break down and cry right there. He had been using a razor blade to cut his
arms. They weren’t deep cuts, just enough to, as he put it, release the endorphins that made his painful depression let up a little. He was already seeing a psychiatrist to treat his ADHD so we went to his next appointment together. She put him on an anti-depressant and that helped some, or so I thought. That night was the first time I cried myself to sleep.
In the summer between his junior and senior year in high school he was invited to attend a week long program for boys from around the state. I drove him to it on a Saturday. It was a really big deal for him, but he was very apprehensive. That first night, I got a phone call. They had taken my son to the ER for what they thought was an allergic reaction. He had tried to tell them he was having a panic attack…it was so hot in the small room he shared with another young man that he felt like the walls were closing in and panicked. Before they determined it was not an allergic reaction they had given him a steroid medication. That did not mix well with his anti-depressant and the medication for his ADHD. It caused a psychotic break that lasted through the day on Sunday.
I was at my parents house most of the next day celebrating Father’s Day with the rest of my family. My son called about once every 45 minutes the entire day. My family said how “proud” they were that I kept telling him that he would make friends, and have a great experience. Then he would call again and the whole conversation started over. I didn’t want anyone to be proud of me. I was in pain myself from having to keep pushing him to stay. I finally decided to leave my parents and go home. Someone said I was doing a wonderful job and not give up now. All I could think of was this wasn’t going to be easy. Something was very wrong and I didn’t know what it was.
Three weeks later I was given a taste of what life would be going forward and it was the hardest day of my life. My son had another psychotic break. This time he was at work. In the emergency room I spoke with the attending physician and with a psychiatric consult. They both suggested that my son be admitted to a locked hospital for the mentally ill. He would need to stay at least three days, possibly more. Because he would need to be transported and admitted against his will , I had to sign the papers. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. He HATED me at that time. I cried for days. I cried all night and didn’t go in to work the next day so I could talk to the doctor. I wasn’t allowed to see my son for longer than an hour. It was the beginning of his war.
When all of this started, of course I blamed myself. I wracked my brain to figure out what I had done wrong or not done at all to cause this terrible illness. And I was angry. I was angry with God. Why had He let this happen to my son? Why couldn’t He make it better? Where was He now? My faith waivered…a lot. my son was sick and I couldn’t fix him. This wasn’t a Band-Aid and kiss from mommy kind of thing. And God wasn’t there. Or at least I didn’t feel God was there.
One day I found myself thinking of Mary and I thought about how she was there when her Son died on the cross. I decided that maybe Mary could intercede for me to God. We both have sons who suffered or were suffering. It was through praying the rosary that I found some peace. And I prayed more during the really hard times.
Things had only begun for my son when he was in the hospital. After he got out, it was meeting with doctors for medication recommendations and tweaking. There is no one set regimen for a mentally ill person. What works for one person doesn’t always work for the next He has tried several different medication combinations and nothing has brought lasting relief.
There have been times when he has been so depressed all he can do is cry and ask me why. It is very difficult hear your teenage (and now almost 24) son say “Mommy, why did this happen to me?” What is even harder is he has tried to take his own life when he has been in a very bad depression. I wrestled him to the ground and ripped pill bottles and pills out of his hands while begging him to not to it. He is much stronger than I am and at his peak weight (one of the meds they tried made him gain weight) he was close to 300 pounds. It was very hard. I prayed as I was trying to bring him down. And once we were on the floor sitting there, we both cried and prayed.
He has been hospitalized several more times. Sometimes it was because of a break from reality, and a couple of times because he did manage to swallow pills enough to be a concern before I could get them away from him.
I am not here telling you my story without reason. The statistics say that 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental health problem in their life. It might be depression over the loss of a loved one or breakup. That will pass. It might anxiety over a job interview or a test. That too will pass. But if they don’t pass, what would you do? Would you know? Who would they talk to? I am here to tell you that it is OK to talk about mental illness.